For Release February 12, 2006

Are Dead Birds in My Yard A Concern?

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

I've gotten several phone calls, recently, from homeowners who have found dead birds in their yard. The general questions being asked are: is the dead bird a health risk to people, what did the bird die of and who should I take it to so it can be tested? The questions, and concern, range from Avian Flu to West Nile Virus to general curiosity.

Let's start with the health concern issues. It is the wrong time of year for West Nile Virus to be actively killing birds. Once the mosquito season winds down in late summer or fall, the infected birds that are going to die do so. With no mosquitoes to cause reinfection, that issue becomes resolved until next summer. West Nile Virus appears to be following in Kansas, the same basic pattern we've seen in earlier infected states. The first couple of years we see the most drastic die off of birds and then the remaining individuals apparently carry a higher level of resistance to the virus.

It seems that a day doesn't go by that we don't hear a report from Africa, Europe or Asia regarding Bird Flu, specifically Avian Influenza H5N1, the highly virulent form. The key here is that the reports are all from overseas, H5N1 Avian Flu has not yet been found in the United States or North America. Additionally, this disease seems to favor waterfowl (ducks and geese) and chickens. These seem to be the most susceptible, and most human cases of H5N1 have arisen where people work in direct contact with poultry flocks or actually have poultry living in their domicile with them.

There seems to be more and more information that migrating birds, especially song bird type species, do not have much, if any, of a role in the spread of H5N1. Virtually all of the birds that homeowners are finding and calling me about are being categorized as sparrows or finches. These species have shown very little inclination to being infected with H5N1 in the wild. Are these dead birds that we are finding in our yard a health concern? No more than any other dead wild animal we find. There are parasites and other things that can cause humans problems if it is a fresh corpse. Pick it up with a plastic bag and toss it in the garbage.

So what are these birds dying of? It is honestly very hard to tell. Birds die all the time from any number of things. The warm weather in January could easily have allowed different parasites to thrive. A parasite ridden animal is going to be weakened and more likely to succumb to any number of other things. There are also numerous specific diseases that will take their toll on wildlife, not to mention things like old age, being attacked by cats, hawks and other predators, or simple collisions with objects. I've watched small hawks snatch birds from bird feeders only to be startled by something and then fly off without their catch.

I also feel that we have developed a heightened level of awareness for dead birds because of all the coverage of West Nile Virus and Bird Flu in recent years. I sense that we may be more likely to notice a dead bird now, as compared to five or ten years ago. We may not want to acknowledge that, but I feel it's true.

What about testing a dead bird? Currently there are no testing programs in place. The West Nile Virus detection program stopped testing dead birds over a year ago. Necropsies of dead birds are expensive and often inconclusive. Especially when you have no idea what disease you may be looking for. Dispose of the dead bird and don't worry about it. Wildlife have always died and they always will. Sometimes we know why, often we don't. If a reason for concern does arise, we will let you know immediately!


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